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Under half of students regularly attended in term three

Michael Neilson,
Publish Date
Tue, 21 Feb 2023, 2:17pm

Under half of students regularly attended in term three

Michael Neilson,
Publish Date
Tue, 21 Feb 2023, 2:17pm

Under half of students regularly attended school in term 3 last year as the country grappled with Covid-19 and a spike in winter illnesses.

Regular attendance is defined as attending greater than 90 per cent of class time or missing no more than one day each fortnight.

The Ministry of Education’s latest data shows in term 3 last year just 46 per cent of students attended class regularly - down from 63.1 per cent during the same term in 2021.

This was up on term 2 last year, at the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak, when regular attendance plummeted to a record low of just under 40 per cent.

Term 3 figures also show ongoing issues with chronic absence - attending class 70 per cent or less - with 12.8 per cent of students in that group - up from 8.8 per cent in the same term in 2021 and 7.4 per cent in 2019.

The data comes as political pressure increases on the Government to address the declining school attendance rates, with National Party education spokeswoman accusing Labour of being “asleep at the wheel”.

Today Education Minister Jan Tinetti launched a $74 million package to increase resources for Attendance Services and fund 82 new attendance officers to work with at-risk students, their parents and schools.

The latest report by the ministry said the main driver of absences was for medical reasons, with Covid-19 highly prevalent in the community through much of term 3 last year and official advice for anybody feeling ill or a close case contact to stay home.

Justified absences overall made up 8.3 per cent of all term time - up from 5.8 per cent the previous year. The largest contributor was medical reasons/short-term illness, which made up 6.8 per cent of all term time - up from 4.6 per cent the previous year.

However, there was also an increase in unjustified absences, increasing from 4.9 per cent of term 3 in 2021 to 6.5 per cent last year.

Regionally, Tai Tokerau/Northland had the lowest regular attendance rate at 33.9 per cent while Otago and Southland had the highest regular attendance rate at 49.8 per cent.

There were further inequities by ethnicity with only just over one-third of Māori students (33.4 per cent) and Pacific students (33.1 per cent) meeting the criteria for regular attendance.

Over half of Asian students 59.1 per cent and fewer than half of Pākehā students 48.2 per cent met the criteria for regular attendance.

Experts warn that students who miss even a few days of school a term can see lower achievement levels and are more likely to slip into truancy.

Last year the Ministry of Education launched an attendance and engagement strategy with 13 priorities to increase attendance and engagement with targets.

By 2026, the Ministry wants to increase the number of children attending regularly (over 90 per cent of the term, or on average more than nine days a fortnight) to 75 per cent.

Education Minister Jan Tinetti said the new funding, which will be part of this year’s Budget, will go towards more attendance officers and supporting the Attendance Service in helping reach that target.

The Ministry of Education has admitted it doesn’t know how many attendance officers - or truancy officers - are in schools or how much money is being spent on them. Employing such officers is up to the discretion of individual schools and targets chronically-truant students.

Tinetti said the new funding would come from a national level and help schools and parents with students who are not regularly attending and at-risk of becoming chronically truant (defined as missing at least three days per fortnight).

About $28m would also go towards the Attendance Service, which already works with students who are chronically absent, or not enrolled at all, and this will help it to support 3000 more young people.

About $8m would also go towards improving attendance data.

National Party education spokeswoman Erica Stanford said the Government had been too slow to act on declining attendance rates.

“Today’s announcement shows that Labour has been asleep at the wheel for the past five years while attendance rates have plummeted.”

She said National would increase accountability on schools and parents setting clear expectations.

“As a start, National would ensure that the Ministry of Education publishes better data in real-time and that every school’s data is published online every term.

“Attendance is a complex problem that needs smart, individualised solutions. We will shift resources from back-office bureaucrats in Wellington to the frontline, so schools have the support they need to give every child the opportunity to benefit from a world-class education.”

Last year the Government set aside $88m for attendance issues, including the Regional Response Fund - $40m over four years - and direct investment into programmes that help young people engage in learning, as well as the ongoing work through the Attendance Strategy and attendance campaigns launched last year.

Meanwhile, the Education Review Office has today released a new report that found four in 10 parents were comfortable with their child missing a week or more of school a term.

An ERO report last year, Missing Out: Why Aren’t Our Children Going to School?, said even missing two days of class per term was linked to lower achievement.

It found families were keeping children home due to illness, but also because they were tired, in poor mental health, or being bullied.

It recommended schools stress the importance of regular attendance, alert parents when children were not attending, and make school more enjoyable.

The report said regular attendance, defined as attending more than 90 per cent of the time, fell from 70 per cent of students in 2015 to just 58 per cent in 2019 before reaching 64 per cent in 2020 and 60 per cent in 2021.

It said in Australia 73 per cent of students attended regularly in 2019 and regular attendance was above 80 per cent in the UK, Ireland, the US and Ontario in Canada where benchmarks for regular attendance ranged from 89-92 per cent and the figures dated from 2015/16 through to 2020/21.



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